Summer Moviethon: The Raid: Redemption and Pitch Perfect

August 5: #44, The Raid: Redemption

“There’ll be no empty seats in here on the way home.”

Sorry, proud Amurricans, but the United States has not had a firm grip on the martial arts epic since Jean-Claude Van Damme was put out to pasture and relegated to direct-to-video status. Even then, in the 80s and 90s, our action heroes were largely big, slow, and preferred guns to kicks. Nowadays, we don’t really have action stars at all, besides perhaps The Rock. They just take a decent actor or actress and give them six months of kickboxing classes, instead. A shame, really.

Fortunately, Indonesia has not given up on the art of ass-kicking, and not only are we getting great martial arts films from the East, still (Ong Bak wasn’t that long ago), but now they’re out action-ing our own action films, to boot. Yes, I just made that word up.

I’m not going to lie to you: The Raid: Redemption is almost entirely a balls-to-the-wall action film. I mean, probably the most dynamic action film you’ve ever seen, and that includes my beloved Ong Bak. However, even though some of you will be relieved that you’ll only be reading subtitles occasionally, others of you should not forego this film simply because it’s the best action film in years. That’s because The Raid: Redemption, despite its dumbass, generic subtitle, is not simply a great action film, but has a fairly interesting plot and some quality drama to offer, as well.

Nobody is expected to be Laurence Olivier here, but everyone is great in their roles. From the beginning, we are invited into the headspace of a young rookie policeman who (of course) is going to be a father for the first time soon. You know, because we wouldn’t give a shit about his safety if he wasn’t procreating. The rookie, Rama (Iko Uwais), is going along on an incredibly dangerous raid on a 14-story apartment complex in a bad neighborhood that is home to druggies, thugs, criminals of all sorts, and the local kingpin, who resides at the top and is nearly impossible to get to in the most literal sense of the phrase.

There’s a great scene right at the beginning where all of the troops are loaded up in an armored vehicle and the tension is high as they prepare for what will be the most dangerous mission they’ve ever been on. Then, just 9 ½ minutes in, they’re rushing into the ground floor of the building, and we’re off to the races. Still, in the occasional moments of dialogue, a couple of intriguing plot points are pushed, with one being about the shady reason they’re even raiding the building (and the reason they can’t get backup when they need it) and another being a surprisingly effective story of estranged brothers.

That’s fine, but again, The Raid is all about action, and it’s here, from some of the best-choreographed martial arts sequences I’ve ever seen to gunfights that are simply crazy and everything in between. This film is an absolute orgy of violence, and it’s even free of the abomination that is “shaky cam”, thanks to director Gareth Evans. Evans skillfully directs the film’s thrilling set-pieces, such as when, trapped in a corner, some officers cut a hole through the floor to go to the apartment below and drop down, with the camera dropping down after them and immediately following the fight that takes place directly when the officers land on their feet.

The film is actually pretty exhausting once it’s all said and done, both because of the number of “Holy shit!” moments and the absolutely bleak cinematography. Everything is dark, with plenty of grays, dark blues, and blacks really underscoring the hopelessness of the task that the officers have undertaken. Yeah, you’ll be spent when you get done watching The Raid, but then you’ll probably also be forcing your friends who haven’t seen it to watch it with you, too. Grade: A

August 6: #45, Pitch Perfect

Finally, a capella groups get their Bring it On

Pitch Perfect takes the Glee/a capella singing group/musical mash-up phenomenon and turns it on its ear pretty skillfully, simultaneously parodying Glee and the like while showing genuine affection to its musical roots, which is not an easy line to walk. So it gets points right off the bat, there.

And hey, it’s pretty damn funny at times! The story follows Anna Kendrick as Beca, a new college student who has no friends and is being forced by her inexplicably dickish father to join an extracurricular activity, even though she’d rather make awful club music on her laptop and keep to herself. Along the way, she joins an a capella group called The Barden Bellas, who are a team that has only two remaining members and must recruit heavily to survive, even as they stubbornly refuse to change their boring arrangements in order to get to the next level.

Barden University has several a capella groups, in fact, including an all-male group, The Treble Makers. The two groups have a rivalry, which gives the movie a third of its conflict, with The Bellas’ leader Aubrey (Anna Camp)’s stubborn refusal to change the group’s direction and Beca’s own intimacy issues (yes, really) comprising the other two-thirds.

So it mostly works, although put me down as having zero investment in Beca and Jesse (Skylar Astin)’s will-they-or-won’t-they love affair. The other two-thirds of the plot is entertaining, with the rivalry between The Bellas and The Treble Makers being the best part of the movie. A lot of that is owed to Adam DeVine (Workaholics), who is the leader of the boys’ group and absolutely steals every single scene he’s in. The majority of the other laughs come from Rebel Wilson, who plays Fat Amy and is actually given fairly bland material to work with but still makes the best of it and gets some laughs along the way.

The problem is that sometimes the movie is a parody, and then it goes about 10 minutes while taking itself extremely seriously all of a sudden. Beca inexplicably goes psycho on Jesse to create a romantic comedy-style forced conflict, and the momentum of the film gets derailed completely, and so on. The movie seems to take itself seriously at times, but Wilson and DeVine completely undermine their groups’ performances at time for laughs (which I enjoyed), too. Then there are the supporting characters of The Bellas, who are all completely stereotyped, one-dimensional characters, such as the Asian Girl Who Doesn’t Speak Loudly Enough To Be Heard.

Still, Pitch Perfect is legitimately funny at times, and I actually liked a lot of the musical arrangements better than what I overheard while my wife was binge-watching every season of Glee in the living room a couple of years ago (they simply have more energy). Plus, I was all set to give this a C+ until I realized that against all odds, I was actually invested in the outcome of the film and got that “feel good” vibe that you always get in these corny underdog stories. It was kind of a missed opportunity, but I’ll still be interested in seeing the sequel. Grade: B-


Summer Moviethon: The Heat, Evil Dead (2013)

July 23: #42, The Heat

Don’t worry, you can show up an hour late to this one

I pride myself at being good at avoiding turds. Some moviegoers can’t seem to do this, and others (like my friend Lee) are actually attracted to them- this is a guy who willingly went to see Garfield

Therefore, I feel like I have to defend myself here, as well as for a few future turds that I will undoubtedly be subjecting myself to. First of all, I think it’s good to watch a shitty movie or two now and then if you’re reviewing films. It helps you to keep your scale calibrated. If all that you watch are great movies, you start to take them for granted. You feel like a professor at Random Online University, just giving out A’s and B’s left and right, whether or not anyone actually deserves one.

Also, this movie was showing in my tiny town’s little theater, which has become my favorite place to see movies. I’ll see just about anything that comes through here (they get one movie a week) if I get the chance and it’s not based on a book written by Nicholas Sparks. Finally, I hadn’t even seen a trailer for this and had no idea it even existed.

I did read some reviews by regular old people online before I went to see The Heat, and they were all pretty much written by middle-aged women who are probably Sandra Bullock fans and didn’t expect to see a movie with almost as many f-bombs as Casino. “The language was DISGUSTING!” one boring menopausal woman with seven cats claimed. Yes, Grumpy Puritanical Lady. The word “fuck” is literally disgusting. Now go watch some Murder, She Wrote and shut the fuck up.

The Heat is basically a female take on the buddy cop film, although it is so untethered to reality in favor of laughs that it’s more comparable to The Other Guys than Lethal Weapon. Also, you should know that it is a giant, stinky turd for about the first hour and represents a very rare counterpoint to the usually dependable rule that comedies are always at their funniest before the plot kicks in.

I didn’t dislike The Heat because of the rampant f-bombs by co-star Melissa McCarthy (This is 40, The Hangover Part III). I disliked it mostly because McCarthy wasn’t funny. Here’s the deal: McCarthy plays Mullins, a Boston undercover cop who doesn’t play by any rules BUT HER OWN and is forced to pair up with an uptight, egotistical FBI agent, Ashburn (Sandra Bullock).

So, much of the film, especially in the first half, is about McCarthy being put into presumably funny situations where we are expected to laugh because a) she’s fat, and b) she says naughty words with a straight face. The problem is that her deadpan style doesn’t work for me, and neither does her Judd Apatow-ian riffs, most of which seem unscripted but almost none of which pair actual humor with their spontaneity.

I should be honest, though: a lot of the people in the theater were laughing. It just didn’t work for me. Now, I have to also add that later on in the film, there are a few legitimately funny scenes, and at least one that features a decent payoff for all of the cussing Mullins has been doing throughout the movie. But I found the first half of the movie either a) boring, b) aggressively, groan-inducingly bad, or c) both at any given time, so it was too little, too late…at least for me. Your mileage may vary.

As for Bullock, she was okay. She plays the straight-laced role well and once the plot gets moving, her and McCarthy have decent chemistry. But why does she all of a sudden look like the late Michael Jackson?

Bony, thin nose? Check. Straight, dark hair? Check. Pale complexion and butt-chin? Double-check. I'm a terrible person.

Humor is a pretty subjective thing. The action elements here are pretty much forgettable, as is everything else, including the entire supportive cast. Therefore, your enjoyment, or lack thereof, will depend on how funny you think McCarthy is here. It was a lot more “miss” than “hit” for me. Grade: D

July 23: #43, Evil Dead (2013)

Awesome, gross, not-altogether-scary fun

I’m used to being in the minority (or, as used to it as you can be while being a straight, white male). I’m one of an apparent very few that do not find “possession” movies all that scary. I know I’m in the minority because people say all the time that The Exorcist is the scariest movie ever made, and the industry keeps pumping out films where people are possessed by demons.


Fortunately, I don’t have to be scared by a horror movie to have a good time with it. I say “fortunately” because neither the 1981 version of The Evil Dead or its 2013 remake are very scary. Do they depict awful situations that would be horrifying in real life? Sure. But lots of things would be scary in real life that aren’t scary on screen. Like murderous turkeys, for example.

That’s not to say that Evil Dead isn’t creepy. There are plenty of unsettling things happening onscreen, and thanks to a plot that doesn’t require a ton of setup, the tension builds pretty nicely even though it takes no time at all for things to escalate.

In a lot of ways, Evil Dead is a victim not only of its predecessor but all of the films that the original inspired. It makes it very hard for anything here to appear new, because quite literally, almost none of it is new. Maybe that’s why it’s not very scary…I knew what was going to happen and whether with the original version or the films it has inspired, we’ve been to this cabin in the woods quite a few times now.

Of course, there are some new wrinkles here, including a large part of the plot itself. The cabin is not new to the kids in the film, which presents some logical issues (they didn’t know about the cellar?) but the setup of using the secluded location to help one of the girls (Jane Levy) kick a drug addiction also helps things make sense. Once she starts sensing things are not quite right, freaks out and wants to leave, her friends simply think she’s suffering from withdrawals and ignore her pleadings.

Like a lot of other previous remakes, most notably the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, this one copies a couple of iconic scenes. Also like the Elm Street remake, when Evil Dead recreates these scenes, it largely falls short (I’m referencing the infamous scene in the woods that starts it all), though not nearly to the degree that the Elm Street remake’s soulless rip-offs did.

Having said that, this is a great piece of horror filmmaking. The special effects are fantastic, the acting is actually very good (with Levy in particular taking on a demanding role and giving one of the better performances I’ve seen in a horror film in quite some time), and the movie has lots of gross-out moments that are hard to watch but add to the fun if you’re watching with like-minded horror fans.

I’m not a fan at all of “torture porn”, which is entirely different than saying I can't stand gore in horror films. See, even though some pretty disgusting stuff happens here, it doesn’t come off like torture porn for a couple of reasons. For one, unlike movies like Hostel, there’s a supernatural force at work, rather than just regular human beings acting like dicks. That’s important. Also, while the actors play it straight, the film has an undeniably campy undertone that keeps a level of disbelief intact to make some of the nastier stuff more palatable to watch. As with a lot of horror movies since the 80s, this one is as much about seeing your friends’ reaction to gross stuff as it is reacting to it yourself.

And there’s plenty to react to. The Book of the Dead features scrawled references to “RIVERS OF BLOOD”, and that’s pretty accurate here. Blood sprays, drips, and is vomited on people, and that’s just for starters. In terms of characters, there’s only one person that I really want to punch in the face, and that’s pretty good for a contemporary horror flick. “Hey, I’m the one that unleashed all this shit, but I’m gonna be a smug prick about it even though it’s all my fault!” Yeah, screw you, judgmental, humorless hipster guy.

The post-credits “scene”, which lasts all of three seconds, makes me wonder where on Earth they’re going with this. It certainly stands out like a sore thumb from the rest of the film, and my initial reaction is to be kind of bummed that they didn’t let the remake stand on its own. For now, they’ve at least done a good job reviving the franchise. Grade: B+


Summer Moviethon: The Resident Evil series

I watched these movies weeks ago and wrote the reviews right after, but am just now posting them here. So yeah, I'm not only woefully behind on watching movies, but reviewing them. There's no way I'm getting to 150, but you knew that. Therefore, I'm taking a cue from the corporate overlords that run not only the real world, but the fictional world in the following films, and doing a chickenshit move our suit-wearing friends like to call a "re-branding"!

150 Movies in 90 Days is now Summer Moviethon! Pretend to like it!

July 9: #37, Resident Evil

Surprise! It's not bad!

After watching my dad play through the entirety of Resident Evil on Playstation, the appeal was lost for me and I never beat the game myself. I played the second one and found it to be incredibly hard right away, so I lost interest. As far as the movies went, I never gave them much thought. I thought staging the first one in a lab of some sort was too different from the game’s setting of a creepy mansion, but it was particularly one shot that killed any desire to see the movie for me.

It was a slow-motion Matrix-y moment where Milla Jovovich (the series’ star) is fighting an infected zombie-dog and she performs the most logical possible attack to dispatch the dog, running up the side of a wall, jumping off of it, and kicking it across the face. That was too much for me. I’m sorry, but unless somebody has had a lot- a lot of martial arts training or is a natural athlete, their kicks just don’t look right, and watching a 100-pound former model doing wire-fu just didn’t do it for me.

Well, what better time to give this long-running horror/action mashup series a chance than now? And I’m not gonna lie, the fact that I have to watch 114 more movies in like a month and all of the five films are just a shade over 90 minutes long also helps. 

You know what? This one surprised me. You’ll hopefully remember that I am no genre snob, and any movie can get a high grade for me, because I grade them according to their genre. That means for something like this, I’m not going to be disappointed when the plot is paper-thin, the character development is non-existent, and logic is largely thrown out the window (along with acting).

Which is good, because Resident Evil has some god-awful acting. When Michelle fucking Rodriguez has one of the better acting performances in your film, you’re in trouble. The film suffers early on from several men (who strangely, look almost exactly the same, like brothers) who really phone in their admittedly corny lines, although Pasquale Aleardi (J.D.) has to be singled out for saying every line he has in the most awkward, unauthentic, unnatural way possible. It’s almost like the director, Paul W.S. Anderson, told him, “Now, act like a guy who is acting! ACTION!” Fortunately, he dies.

Lots of people do, actually. This is actually a rated-R film, and not just for show. There is a delightfully twisted scene where the security system uses laser beams to attack the military unit, and it plays out so wonderfully gruesomely that I don’t even mind that they ripped it off from Cube.
Other stuff I liked- the direction was often fairly competent, as when Alice (Jovovich) is on the run from the dogs and has a tense moment where you know there’s a jump-scare coming, but when it comes it’s from a threat other than the one you expected. Of course, that’s followed by the awful wire-fu face kick, and most of the action scenes are accompanied by terrible metal or techno tracks. Also, this film was made over a decade ago and on a modest budget, so the CGI is a bit dodgy.

However, the action scenes are well done, some cool things are used such as a computer generated map that shows you where the group is in a neat transition between scenes, and a satisfying ending that is faithful to the games and takes the movie nicely into the sequel. This is a great example of a very good film in its genre and therefore, a pleasant surprise. Grade: B+

July 11: #38: Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Now with EVEN MORE super-serious women beating up zombies!

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (the series ditches the whole “number” titling in favor of generic dystopian terms) picks up right where the previous film left off, both in terms of story and in style.
That means you get more over-the-top action, pretty awful acting outside of a few minor characters and Milla Jovovich (Alice) herself, and zombies who aren’t really the focus of the film at all. This film also adds a new female character in Jill Valentine, played by Sienna Guillory. Guillory is pretty, but she essentially plays the same female-badass type that Michelle Rodriguez plays. The difference is that Guillory’s acting makes Rodriguez look like Meryl Streep.
The sequel also features plenty of nameless male soldiers, generic in look and lack of charisma, who are thankfully only in the film to be fodder for villains and zombies. Also, this time there’s a new “boss”, to steal a video game term- a huge monster/zombie hybrid thing named Nemesis. Nemesis is actually the result of experimentation on one of Alice’s colleagues, and though he looks cool, he moves about as stiffly as I do when I first get out of bed in the morning and really just exists to shoot things with a huge gun. Oh, and there’s a character named LJ who is supposed to be comic relief but instead makes me want to find the actor who played him and punch him in the dick.

Now, the good stuff. This film is so over-the-top that the bad acting feels right at home, and somehow Jovovich’s competent performance doesn’t seem out of place, either. It’s got great action movie cliché moments, such as people constantly running out of ammo at key moments. The “out of ammo” cliché gets turned nicely on its ear at the end of the film for an amusing moment, too. Other great clichés and tropes add to the fun and frustration of this film simultaneously- “highly-trained” soldiers fire thousands of rounds at Nemesis, yet somehow only shoot his armor and never his head.  Shotguns are pumped right after dramatic lines are finished- “Raccoon City will be completely sanitized…” CH-CHUCK.

The thematic elements are heavy-handed, but they’re there, at least. The series is really based upon a distrust of large corporations, and that gets turned up to 11 as the Umbrella Corporation can basically do anything they want with impunity, as seen by the hard-to-fathom “hoax” twist at the end that keeps the company out of hot water for their crimes. There’s a less obvious attack on our “record everything”, voyeuristic culture when a reporter’s camera ends up taping her own demise, too.

Altogether, Resident Evil: Apocalypse is a mish-mash of so many different things that it’s hard to imagine how they packed it all into an hour and a half. Some of it works (any scene with Jovovich; Game of Thrones’ Iain Glenn as a mad scientist), a lot of it doesn’t (any scene without Jovovich; Nemesis), but the film manages to have enough fun moments to build anticipation towards the next installment, which is basically what it’s meant to do. Grade: B-
July 11: #39, Resident Evil: Extinction

Naked and Confused: The Milla Jovovich Story

I actually laughed out loud when Resident Evil: Extinction began. Why? Because even though it was completely inconsistent with how the previous film ended, they somehow continued the streak of having each Resident Evil movie open with Milla Jovovich naked and confused as to her whereabouts.

Surprisingly, they were able to justify this seemingly inconsistent beginning and it actually ended up being the most clever opening scene in the series so far. See, the baddies (specifically Iain Glenn of Game of Thrones fame, who reprises his role as Umbrella’s mad scientist) have been cloning Alice (Jovovich) and running her through a gauntlet to see if the cloned version can survive as the real version would. When the newest one doesn’t, we see a grisly and remarkable shot that slowly reveals a mass grave of cloned Alices, which is a pretty gruesome sight and starts the movie off with some genuine intrigue. Why are they cloning her? Where’s the real Alice?

All that is answered and we find out that Umbrella, like all evil corporations, is not looking to fix their problem so much as to twist it to further their diabolical purposes. How so? By turning zombies into complacent, trainable slaves. Meanwhile, Alice is traversing the country, which has become a wasteland as the T-Virus has spread all over the earth (except, strangely, to Alaska, which is described as “isolated” even though IT BORDERS CANADA).

That’s your plot in a nutshell, and it gives us some nice set pieces, including a memorable scene with infected birds attacking a survivor encampment that may not be quite Hitchcockian, but is well done nonetheless. There’s also a pretty impressive rendering of Las Vegas as a deserted wasteland near the end of the film, too.

We try not to ask questions, of course. Questions like, “Why do Umbrella’s goons continue to work for them when the world is obliterated and overrun with zombies? Do they think they’ll actually get their pensions one day?” And questions like, “With no one alive anymore to buy Umbrella’s products, how exactly does the corporation keep thriving so that they can run their state-of-the-art labs and communicating with their innumerable satellites?” Or even, “How is it that people are eating old canned goods and racing through desert environments like Mad Max while every scene dealing with Umbrella’s higher-ups shows that business is running as usual? Does the world’s infrastructure being completely destroyed somehow not affect them?” Suppress those inquisitive instincts!

Anyway, alongside some cool cinematic moments and the predictably solid action scenes is a good performance by Ali Larter as Claire Redfield, who is this installment’s female badass, but brings a little more subtlety to the role (and seems more like an actual person) than her predecessors, Sienna Guillory (Jill Valentine, Resident Evil: Apocalypse) and Michelle Rodriguez (Rain, Resident Evil). Even LJ, the most grating character in the series so far, is much less annoying in this film, and you might just get to see his head blown off in this film, to boot. What’s not to like there?

If there’s any other criticism to be made of this one, it’s that the action is strangely backloaded and makes the first 45 minutes kind of drag in comparison, other than the excellent opening. That’s a nitpick, and says a lot about the good pacing of the films so far, though. Even the zombies are better than before, thanks to some genetic modifications that make them more 28 Days Later than Dawn of the Dead. Grade: B

July 12: #40, Resident Evil: Afterlife

The series runs dry on subtitles...and everything else

I should have known that Resident Evil: Afterlife wouldn’t keep the momentum up when I watched the flat opening sequence. Essentially, we see Alice storming Umbrella headquarters and massacring tons of nameless, armed nobodies. The scene is technically okay, but doesn’t inspire excitement, only questions. Why does Alice fight hard to eliminate over a dozen soldiers, only to finally unleash her telekinetic powers to dispatch a mere six of them minutes later? Couldn’t she have done that in the first place?

For that matter, when it’s revealed that Alice brought some friends- dozens of clones made of her in the last film- to help, you wonder why none of them blocked the exit so that Wesker (the bad guy, played boringly by Shawn Roberts) couldn’t escape. Then you wonder, when the “real” Alice is on the plane Wesker is using to escape, why she didn’t bring a few clones with her to beat him up. After all, his powers apparently surpass her own, as he easily bests her and takes her powers away in the process.

Though she has no special powers, she does walk away from the eventual crash of the plane, even though the plane itself is reduced to bits and pieces. Later on, the supposedly powerless Alice jumps high enough in the air to kick a ten-foot high monster in the face, then shakes it off when he swats her into a wall with a ginormous axe that must weigh several hundred pounds.

I wouldn’t pan a Resident Evil film just for logical issues, though. That’s silly. No, the problem with this installment is that it doesn’t seem like anybody gave a shit. Sure, nobody in the cast and crew were under the impression that they were going to win Best Picture in the previous films, but you could sense a little passion in the process, nonetheless. This movie instead gets bogged down with a slow, dull middle third and silly tricks like excessive slow-mo that is used not during a cool kick or a backflip, but ALL THE TIME. That puzzling directing decision pretty much ruins the only cool action sequence in the film, in fact.

Even the characters don’t seem to care. When of Alice and newcomer Luther’s friends gets snapped up by a zombie and dragged away to be eaten, not only do Alice and Luther fail to show any kind of feeling, but literally seconds later they’re smiling and saying, “Nice!” as they discover a room holding a huge weapons cache.

There are some good things going on here. Zombies now have four sets of clawed tendrils coming out of their mouths, which is a cool sight. The film ends with an interesting wrinkle that nicely sets up the next installment, too. This one isn’t really bad, just completely uninspired. Grade: D+

July 13: #41 Resident Evil: Retribution

The most unlikely comeback since Rocky Balboa (it works two ways!)

Even though I noted that the fourth installment of the series ended with a decent setup for the fifth, I wasn’t exactly confident that I’d like Resident Evil: Retribution. After all, how many times does the fifth movie in a series top the earlier films, especially when there’s already been a drop-off in quality? Okay, other than with The Fast & the Furious. Whatever.

Anyway, the opening sequence gets the series back to doing what it does best: opening in strong fashion. The film begins with a very neat shot of Alice floating on top of the ocean, as filmed from beneath her in the water. From there, Alice moves backwards through the air, to where she was blown off of the boat where the last film ended, and then the huge battle scene that led to her predicament plays in reverse. It’s a gimmick, sure, but an undeniably cool one.

There’s also what appears to be a weird dream sequence right at the start, but later on it makes perfect sense, or as close to perfect sense as possible in a film series that requires this much suspension of disbelief. Finally, the lengthy opening gets back to the series’ roots by starting Alice off naked and confused as to her whereabouts! Ahhh, it’s like being home again.

I even overlooked the fact that while Umbrella has her in an inescapable prison, the security magically shuts off and some weird leather bondage wear comes out of the wall for her to put on. I also overlooked the fact that Wesker is the person behind the security shutting down, because he has ALL OF A SUDDEN realized that making the human race extinct is BAD FOR BUSINESS.

I overlooked these things because the setup allows for some dynamic set pieces and a great escape by Alice. See, along the way to the exit are huge environments (think “the X-Men’s Danger Room”) that run simulations of different zombie epidemics, all using living human clones. Is it a silly gimmick? Sure. Does it make any sense? Not really.

However, I don’t give a crap because the sequences the setup leads to are awesome. A zombie attack in suburbia, a massive shootout in Moscow, and two more massive axe-wielding zombie-monsters going after Alice and newcomer Ada Wong (Li Bingbing) in Times Square (with an excellent car chase, to boot). There’s a great car chase, as well. Without the simulation gimmick, all of this stuff wouldn’t be possible, so it’s cool in my book. 

Now, there are some things that aren’t so great. Most notably, when late in the film, every kick and punch the now-evil Rain (Michelle Rodriguez, because she never stays dead in movies) lands on Alice makes an annoying bone-breaking sound. It’s not as annoying as the “whip” sound effect that plagued fights in the second film, but it’s worth mentioning.

Then there’s the end, where Wesker injects Alice with…something that gives her superpowers again, only for her to get mad for some reason. Why would you be mad about having badass superpowers? Then, we see some zombie dragon thingies and shit and oh, who cares, because in the final film, Alice will be going after the “Red Queen” as the series concludes. I was surprised at how great this one was, and it gives me hope for the series’ finale, tentatively scheduled for 2014. The Resident Evil series as a whole is a lot better than I expected and four of the five films are good action-horror flicks. Grade: B+

UPDATE: The sixth and final installment will be titled Resident Evil: Afterbirth.



150 Movies in 90 Days: Trouble with the Curve and Despicable Me

July 9: #35, Trouble with the Curve

Because you can never get enough of Clint Eastwood playing grumpy old guys

I love baseball and like romantic comedies, so I figured Trouble with the Curve would be right up my alley. A little family drama is always good, too, and I tend to welcome genre-mashups. The final positive indicator here was Clint Eastwood in his twilight playing a grumpy old man. I think we all love that.

Trouble with the Curve opens with Gus (Eastwood) grumpily trying to pee. After he finishes urinating, he promptly walks right into a coffee table that he apparently doesn’t see and kicks the table across the room to teach it a lesson. Right away, I thought a) “hey, this is me in forty years!” and b) “okay movie, you’ve got my attention.” 

It’s unfortunate, then, that most aspects of the film are just slightly above mediocrity. The acting is fine, with Eastwood settling back into his trusty role as a crochety old guy, Amy Adams deftly handling her role as Mickey, a workaholic lawyer with daddy issues, and even Justin Timberlake not making me want to murder him during the film’s nearly two-hour running time. Timberlake isn’t a “bad” actor, he just gets cast in roles sometimes that cannot fit into. This one (Johnny, a former baseball standout who has become a scout after a career-ending injury), happily, is an exception.

Even his best efforts can’t help awfully-written scenes like the one where he pulls over to watch a bunch of kids play a sandlot baseball game, only to freak them out by loudly commentating the action to the point where he is oblivious that they have stopped playing and started watching him. The kids (“What a weirdo!”) know what he’s doing is strange and unrealistic, why didn’t the screenwriter? 

The baseball stuff is a bit disappointing, too. Sometimes, it is very realistic, especially in terms of how the three main characters banter about players. Other times, it’s completely unrealistic, such as the talk between scouts at Atlanta Braves headquarters, which is too polished and feels like acting, especially when contrasted with the casual, conversational acting found in something like Moneyball.

There are some other issues. The player that Gus, Mickey, and Johnny have traveled to a small southern town to scout is not only poorly cast from an athletic standpoint, but is written with such an effort to make him a stereotypical “cocky athlete” that he instead becomes a huge distraction. They could have taken it down a notch  instead and gotten the point across without having him crazily admonishing his teammates for interrupting his daydreams about signing huge endorsement deals while riding on the bus, like a high school villain in a Disney movie.

The issues between Gus and Mickey are handled beautifully, though, even if it gets a bit one-note because Gus has a tendency to be so withdrawn and awkward that their conversations don’t get anywhere most of the time. As a scout, Gus was always on the road when Mickey was growing up and has not really been much of a part of her life, and both characters are realistically played and written to bring this conflict to life.

Despite all of this and some interesting parallels between father and daughter (both workaholics, both believe that there’s more to making choices than what looks good “on paper”, a theme of the film), the film ends disappointingly, with all of the loose plot ends getting tied up in record speed (even for a film with rom-com elements) and a sequence of near-impossible events that actually cheapen what should be a happen ending. Okay movie, but it could have been much better. Grade: C+

July 9: #36, Despicable Me

"No, no, no...I said 'DART' gun."

So after watching the sequel recently and really enjoying it, I decided to borrow the original Despicable Me from my brother and watch it with the kids. I had pretty high hopes- my brother said it was in his top five kids’ movies, although he also really liked Eight Crazy Nights, so there’s that.

To make a long story short, since I have a crapload of movies to watch and I should get to the point, I was mildly disappointed…but only because the second one is so damn funny. The first Despicable Me is still a good animated family film. It’s got the requisite heartwarming story with a moral to it, along with memorable characters and distinctive, quality animation.

What it lacks that the second film has in abundance is laughs. There are funny moments, but just not in the way that part two has them. The songs by Pharrell Williams (who does the original music for both films in the series) are better than in Despicable Me 2, but the second is better in almost every respect. Better villain, better slapstick comedy, funnier minion moments, and so on. Still, a very good movie to watch with the kids, or hell, even by yourself if you don’t have any. Grade: B-